Fantastic Four Movie Review
Michael Chiklis. Chris Evans. Jessica Alba in her underwear. These are the only three things I enjoyed about "Fantastic Four," the new tent pole release from Marvel Comics. Looking to follow the trend of the huge critically and financially successful "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" franchises, one of Marvel's most well-known comic book characters come to the big screen - but they forgot to include a story, special effects or a halfway decent director.
Acclaimed director Tim Story [note sarcasm], best known for "Barbershop" but also responsible for the disaster that was last year's Jimmy Fallon failure "Taxi," continues to show that he is made to do action movies with "Fantastic Four," a film that amazingly lacks enough action to fill an episode of "Sesame Street." And sadly, the action that does exist in this disappointing film can hardly amount to the word "exciting." Last year, "The Incredibles" did the same thing much, much, much better. The direction all around is notably weak compared to that of much better directors like Bryan Singer ("X-Men") and Sam Raimi ("Spider-Man"), as the film never builds tension due to poor pacing, unnecessary and pathetic character-building, and downright basic camerawork.
The special effects don't help, either. While not particularly bad, the graphics are not particularly good, either. The space station scene is especially dull, and this should have been one of the tensest moments of the movie. Otherwise, the effects just aren't ambitious enough for this day and age. Though the "Spider-Man" movies sometimes exceeded the abilities of their effects, at least they pushed the limits; there is nothing here to qualify as a "money shot." To compare to "The Incredibles" once again, that Pixar "cartoon" seemed so much more dynamic and alive than this live-action adaptation. "The Incredibles," which obviously borrowed elements from the "Fantastic Four," really took its characters to the next level, both from an emotional viewpoint and a special powers perspective. The scenes where Elastigirl was stretching, Mr. Incredible was punching the daylights out of things and the invisible daughter was putting her force fields to the test were very exciting. The camera was always moving as the special effects intensified the movie. "Fantastic Four" lacks all of that. The best effects shot probably comes when The Flaming Torch is flying through the city to evade a heat-seeking missile, but Tim Story still fails to engage the audience.
The acting is another problematic sector. A lot of discussion has been raised over the decision to not cast any big names in the leads. For a movie like this, it's really not necessary to have big names as the title itself should draw people into the theaters - assuming there is a screenplay and story to back it up. Unfortunately, both the screenplay and story are so bad that the actors really struggle with the material. Chris Evans is good as the fun-loving Johnny Storm, and Michael Chiklis is also pretty enjoyable as Ben Grimm, a.k.a. The Thing. Both these guys obviously had a lot of fun in the roles and the sparring between the two of them is the highlight of the film. If there's one thing "Fantastic Four" is successful at it is being funny, but then again, I didn't go to this movie to laugh. Jessica Alba turns in a decent performance as Susan Storm, but it's her low-cut shirts that steal the show. Unfortunately, the acting really takes a turn for the worse when it comes to Ioan Gruffudd, a.k.a. Reed Richards, and Julian McMahon, a.k.a. Dr. Doom. The script is partially to blame, but these actors bring nothing to their roles. Reed Richards is apparently the most boring character on the planet; I would have just as much preferred him to die. McMahon is even worse as Dr. Doom. His voice, mannerisms and everything are just not right to play the lead villain.
But in the end, only so-so special effects, questionable acting and poor dialogue are not a kill-all for a comic book movie. But having no story is. Not only is there no story, but half of the movie doesn't make any sense. It plays out like a campy cheese fest, though it obviously wasn't intended to be. Where do I begin?
First off, when the five lead characters are up in the space station, they are struck by radiation waves in space and their DNA is altered. Richards miscalculates when the storm is going to hit, and so suddenly they only have nine minutes until the "cloud" strikes. Then, three minutes later, the blast hits them. That right there doesn't make any sense.
I don't mean to be picky, but as I grow older my taste matures a bit and my demand for scientific accuracy - or at least for effective scientific bullshitting - increases. Back on Earth, as the Fantastic Four begin to realize they are changing, doctors and scientists alike discuss how they're not sure if their "disease" is contagious or not. Contagious? They were affected by radiation, not bacteria. Radiation is not contagious the last time I checked. Furthermore, Richards gets it into his mind to build a chamber that will synthesize the radiation storm and reverse their special powers. Somehow, even though he is broke and couldn't possibly have the power to replicate such a thing (not to mention having no access to radioactive material), he manages to build a working chamber in what appears to be a week's time. It would take years to make such a thing. I don't care if this is a comic book movie or not, but... IT. WOULD. TAKE. YEARS.
Oh, did I mention The Thing uses the chamber to reverse back to normal? Yes, he reverts back to his original self, because apparently being bombarded with "reverse" radioactive particles will reset your DNA. I always thought getting hit by a second dose of radioactive waves would just mutate your genes further, but apparently not here.
Most frustrating about the story, however, is not the huge scientific inaccuracies but the complete lack of plot. Tim Story literally devotes more time to showing Johnny Storm snowboard and compete in the X-games than he does to showing the good guys fight Dr. Doom. The first and only battle between the two sides begins about twenty minutes before the end of the movie - the rest of the film is just lame character development. Yes, character development is important, but "Batman Begins" managed to pull off believable character development and an exciting plot all rolled into one package only three weeks ago.
In the end, the lack of story and a variety of other failures result in a less-than-entertaining experience. "Fantastic Four" is a potential franchise, but by hiring the wrong director and screenwriter, 20th Century Fox has put itself in a precarious position: will it be worth making a sequel to a lackluster original that will probably struggle after its opening weekend?
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.